Ricky Skaggs has long resided at the crossroads of traditional and experimental, from picking with Bill Monroe at the age of 6 and Flatt & Scruggs one year later, to his recent work with rock keyboard whiz Bruce Hornsby and the jam band Phish, with high-profile gigs with Ralph Stanley, J.D. Crowe and the New South and Emmylou Harris in between.
He’ll be at the same address for Music to My Ears, due out Sept. 25 on Skaggs Family Records. The new project will be “at least 75 percent bluegrass,” he told Bluegrass Today, and will include songs intended as tributes to Doc Watson, who died while Ricky was in the studio, and Bill Monroe.
But there’s also a tradition-bending guest vocalist, Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, who wrote and will sing on the song Soldier’s Son. Readers who want to get a sneak preview of how they sound together can check out their performance of When the Roses Bloom Again, a Civil War song they sang a couple of weeks back on the Grand Ole Opry.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meMZNiHURe0
Ricky and Barry met in an elevator years ago at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the Bee Gees were being inducted and Ricky was inducting Bill Monroe), and they’ve been pals ever since. In fact, don’t be surprised if Barry, the only surviving member of the trio of brothers, records a bluegrass project at some point.
(Bluegrass is a far cry from the disco tunes that made the Brothers Gibb rich, but some of their earlier work translates well and is occasionally heard on the festival circuit, so it could work.)
“He holds country music and bluegrass so close to his heart,” Ricky said.
So, of course, does Ricky, although he acknowledges that some fans of the music still resent the fact that he “left” bluegrass to play with Emmylou Harris and then detoured further into country music. To those who think that way, he has a quick answer: “I never left bluegrass. Go back and listen to the records, goofballs.” He chuckled after he said it, but he sure seemed to mean it.
The title track of Ricky’s new project with Kentucky Thunder is a song written by Mark Simos, Lisa Aschmann, and Becky Buller in which Ricky says he “did my best Ralph Stanley.” The tribute to Doc Watson is Tennessee Stud, while the nod to the Father of Bluegrass comes from a song Ricky and Nashville writer Gordon Kennedy collaborated on called You Can’t Hurt Ham. It tells the story behind one of Mr. Monroe’s legendary utterances, which lends itself to the title of the song.
Ricky is among the most successful pickers of his generation, and he has a pile of trophies to show for it, including 14 Grammy awards and a dozen statues from the International Bluegrass Music Association. But he says he’s where he wants to be right now.
“I’ve had the awards and all that stuff. The joy I had back then cannot compare to the joy I have now, just making the music that I want to make.”
It’s a pretty safe bet that the music he makes on the upcoming CD will, indeed, be Music to My Ears – and to a lot of other ears as well.